The Origins of Political Order

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The three components/pillars of a stable state according to Fukuyama

The Origins of Political Order is a 2011 book by political economist Francis Fukuyama about what makes a state stable. It uses a comparative political history to develop a theory of the stability of a political system. According to Fukuyama, a stable state needs to be modern and strong, to obey the rule of law governing the state and be accountable.[1]

Series of books[edit]

The book is intended as the first in a series of books on the development of political order. This book goes from its origins to the French Revolution. The next book will start with the French Revolution, and there may be a third book with a view to the future.

A companion volume Political Order and Political Decay was published in September 2014.[2]

Why states and institutions fail[edit]

The book is an attempt to understand why modern statebuilding and the building of institutions in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone and Liberia have failed to live up to expectations.[3]

In the aftermath of its 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US administration seemed genuinely surprised when the Iraqi state itself collapsed in an orgy of looting and civil conflict.[4]

The book is about "getting to Denmark," in other words creating stable, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive, and honest societies.[5] Fukuyama points out that at the time of writing ninety contemporary 'primitive' societies had been engaged in war,[6] suggesting that political order is preferable to primitive social structures if stability is to be achieved. The author describes how attempts at shaping countries outside the western world into western type democracies failed, and that this book was an attempt to find out why, by trying to find the true origins of political order, by tracing the histories of China, India, Europe and some Muslim countries from the point of view of three components.[7]


Since the aim of the book is to understand how institutions and states develop in different countries, it is also a book on comparative historical research.

It is an extension of Samuel P. Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies and similar in scope to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel.[8]

Fukuyama develops his argument with respect to the history of China, India and the Middle East before focusing on the way European countries developed in a variety of directions.[9]

From pre-human origins to states[edit]

From chimpanzee hunting groups to tribes[edit]

In his quest for the origins of political order, he first looks at the social order among chimpanzees, notes that the war-like hunting group, rather than the family, was the primary social group, and claims the same for humans. Humans went further: to survive they formed tribes, whose armies were superior to hunting groups by their sheer size.[10][11][12][13]

He uses recent work in sociobiology and other sources to show that sociability built on kin selection and reciprocal altruism is the original default social state of man and not any isolated, presocial human as suggested by Hobbes and Rousseau.[14][15] He suggests that Hobbes and Locke present a fallacy when they argue humans developed cooperative ability only as a result of the invention of the state. This is because chimps, the genetic ancestors to humans, engage in kin relations based on cooperation,[16] and so Hobbes and Locke must be suggesting humans were once sociable, lost this instinct and then regained it due to the state.[17]

Challenge of tribes on the road towards the state[edit]

The next step was to escape beyond tribalism and the "tyranny of cousins", to join tribes into larger coalitions[9] towards states, again due to the advantage of larger armies. This was done with the aid of religion.[13] This was because as groups grew in size, maintaining cooperation became more difficult as face-to-face interactions with much of society became difficult. Religion offered a way of providing a combining social force to hold society together .[18] For example, Fukuyama cites Mohammed as an example of what Weber labels a "charismatic leader" because he used the idea of an 'umma' (community of believers) to bind together the territory that he ruled over .[19] This challenge to transcend tribalism partly remains today in many parts of the world that is outside Western civilization, for example in Afghanistan and in Somalia.[13]

Restrictions on marriage and inheritance as a strategy against corruption[edit]

Loyalty to the tribe or the family, rather than to the state, leads to corruption and weakening of the state. Various strategies were used to overcome the corruption. One such strategy was restrictions against marriage among the ruling official class to make sure that loyalties would not lie with family or tribe.[20]

Mandarins or Scholar-officials, who were the ruling class of China, were not allowed to pass on the lands given to them by the emperor to their own children and were restricted as to whom they were allowed to marry.[21]

Mamluk slaves, the ruling class of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, were told which slaves to marry while their children could not inherit from them.[22]Jannisarries were originally forced into celibacy or and prohibited from having a family.[23][24]

Pope Gregory VII forced Catholic priests in Europe to become celibate and they were prohibited from having a family for the same reason.[25]

Spanish administrators in South America were restricted from to marrying local women and from establishing family ties in the territories they were sent to.[26]

Three components of political order[edit]

The books develops the idea of the development of the three components of a modern political order, which are,[1]

  1. State building
  2. Rule of law
  3. Accountable government

China, India, the Islamic world and Europe each developed these three components of political organization in different order, in different ways and to different degrees. Denmark and the United Kingdom arrived first at a modern balance of the three components in a single package, follow by others by the nineteenth century, as the Netherlands and Sweden.[27]

Origins of Political Order depend on three components, according to Fukuyama. States with all three components, are more stable, and are shown in the middle.


China is described as having the first modern state,[28] by the definition given, since it established an educated Mandarin bureaucracy, although Hewson objects to this conclusion since the Mandarin bureaucracy was not modern.[10] China used extreme violence on its population (especially during the influence of legalism[29]), but had a weak rule of law and the emperor had no accountability to anyone.[5]


India is contrasted with China. India could not use extreme force on its population due to the traditional power of the brahmin priestly caste, who protested against violence against the populace and against war against neighboring states by refusing to perform ancestral rituals for the Raja leaders. The power of the Brahmins weakening the state's power over its people, and effectively forced a strong accountability on its leaders to the population of India via its priestly class.[5][30] An example Fukuyama gives of the influence religion had on early Indian rulers is Ashoka (304–232 BCE) of the Maurya Dynasty, who under the influence of Buddhism (rather than Brahmanism) came to regret his conquests in the Kalinga War. He vowed to end his empire, and eventually the entire political system collapsed .[31]

Muslim states[edit]

Certain Muslim states developed the practice of making imported slaves as the ruling class, as with the Mamluks of Egypt and the Janissaries of the Ottoman empire, a process which started around the 8th century. Since these ruling class slaves were neither beholden to family nor to any tribe, but dependent only on the state, it ensured their loyalty towards the state.[9][32] A later example would be the 16th century Ottoman Empire practice of seeking out intelligent Christian children for high civil service or military positions, who were cut off from their family for their training .[33]


In 11th-century Europe, instead of the state having the upper hand as in China, or the Brahmins having the upper hand as in India, there was a power conflict between state and church, the Investiture Controversy between Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor.[34]

The papal party started to search for sources of law to strengthen its case for the universal jurisdiction of the church. They rediscovered the Justinian Code, the Corpus Iuris Civilis, in a library near Bologna in northern Italy in 1072, leading later to the student body called a "universitas", first in Bologna, and soon after in Paris, Oxford, Heidelberg, Cracow, and Copenhagen studying the code and displacing particularistic Salic law.[35] The laws gave the Gregory the authority to excommunicate Henry IV, who was forced to walk to Canossa from Germany to Italy, stand barefoot[36] in the snow for three days[37] outside Canossa and to ask forgiveness from the pope on his knees.[38] The Concordat of Worms ended the struggle between popes and emperors in 1122. It created balance between royal power and religious tradition not seen anywhere else before.[5]

Catholic leaders became accountable to the clergy and to the pope, who historically frequently objected to violence and wars, just as their counterparts in India had done, but in Europe the clergy did not weaken the states as much as Brahmins had done in India. The papal intercessions against wars between Catholic countries also led to the survival of small states in Europe, similar to India, but in contrast to what had happened in China. The existence of small states who were restricted by the church from recruiting mass armies waging wars costly in casualties, as had been the case in China, combined with the existence of independent university scholars, led to military innovations on land and sea to empower fewer soldiers to wield wars effectively and later gave these relatively small countries a military advantage large enough to conquer colonies in the rest of the world. Western Europe began getting the best of both worlds. In England, the rise of common law also strengthened the rule of law. With the reformation, the Lutheran priest N.F.S. Grundtvig in Denmark advocated general literacy since they believed that every Christian should read the bible and established schools throughout the country leading to voting rights 1849.[39] In Denmark this led to the state gradually being more accountable to the general population, since they could now vote and read. In England and Denmark a balance was finally struck between the three components of political order.[5][40]

Balance between the components[edit]

A successful modern liberal democracy balances all three components to achieve stability.[41]

In China a strong modern state came to power first and the state subjugated any potential agents that might have demanded the other two components. In China, the priestly class did not develop into an organized independent religion, as the priests were in the service of the Emperor. Numerous times, therefore, imperial dynasties collapsed.[42][5]

In India, the Brahmins became organised into a strong upper caste of India and the warrior/state caste was held to account by a rule of law as interpreted by the Brahmins. Because of the state was weakened by this limitation, attempts at unifying India under one rule did not last very long.[43][5]

In Europe, there was a long period when the emperors and popes were in conflict, creating a balance of power between them ,[5] and ultimately leading to a situation where some small states developed a stable balance between the three components in the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden.[27][5]


Fukuyama's book was listed in "New York Times Notable Book for 2011",[44] the Globe and Mail "Best Books of the Year 2011 Title",[45] Kirkus Reviews "Best Nonfiction of 2011 title".[46] and on the short list for The Lionel Gelber Prize.[47]

Each reviewer listed here, many of who are notable academics in the field of political economy, discovers a different lesson from the book.

The book received positive reviews, a tour de force as a new description of political history. Many of the following reviewers start out by summing up his most well known book, The End of History and sometimes they connect it to the book being reviewed.

Reviewer Jon Sallet writes that Francis Fukuyama is out to challenge the Anglo-centric perspective of the rise of democracy running from Athens directly to John Locke. "He asks, simply: What happened, why did it happen, and what does it teach us about the future?"[48]

Robert Blackburn thinks that it should be required reading for the education minister and his advisers: "A tour de force, readable, well-informed and provocative. It supplies a coherent, sustained and challenging narrative of the whole of human history."[9]

Michael Lind claims that Fukuyama, in discussing the origins of The Origins, is being modest, follows Weber, Durkheim, Marx, and Hegel and looks forward to the next book in the series. The Origins of Political Order is a rigorous attempt to create a synoptic view of human history by means of a synthesis of research in many disciplines.[14]

David Runciman explains that the phrase "to get to Denmark" means to get to a stable, prosperous, dynamic society, but complains that he does not provide the answer.[49]

The Economist sees insights into China, India and the Arab world today: "its insights are relevant to our understanding of modern states and how they became what they are."[28]

Hewson considers the book a major achievement as an overview of political evolution from prehistory and onwards.[10]

Ian Morris writes. "It is an intellectual triumph—bold in scope, sound in judgment, and rich in provocations; in short, a classic."[5]

Will Hutton uses the book in his review to show why the anti-state instincts of the Tea Party movement are wrong.[50]

Nicholas Wade's review compares the work to classics in the field, like Guns, Germs and Steel and quotes other positive comments, among them Goerg Sorensen, who proclaims "this will be a new classic", Arthur Melzer saying that it is "definitely a magnum opus." and that it is unusual because it addresses many factors like warfare, religion, and human social behaviors.[51]

At a discussion with Fukuyama at Trinity College, he explain the relevance of his ideas to the country's battle over the budget, the debt ceiling and Obamacare.[52]

Frank Furedi comments that Fukuyama is concerned about political stasis in many liberal democracies, and warns about political decay.[53]

Gerard DeGroot congratulates Fukuyama for thinking big."This is a book that will be remembered, like those of Ranke, Trevelyan and Turner. Bring on volume II."[11]

Christopher Caldwell calls Fukuyama's latest book sober but scintillating. Fukuyama’s grimmest message, he feels, is that progress in moral and culture may signal decay in politics and civilisation.[54]

Tim Soutphommasane writes that while philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau consider humans to be individualistic, Fukuyama cites modern biology research as arguments for humans being programmed for social co-operation.[55]

David Marquand writes that "It is an astonishing achievement."[12]

David Gress advises future leaders to take note, since future legitimacy depends upon a balance between strong state action and individual freedoms.[56]

Michael Burleigh is impressed by the Fukuyama combines anthropology, social biology, history and political science.[13]

Steve Sailer concludes that The Origins of Political Order offers a respectable starting point for those who want to understand how states and nations evolved.[8]


  1. ^ a b Fukuyama 2011, p. 312,420.
  2. ^ "Biography: Francis Fukuyama". Stanford University. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  3. ^ Fukuyama 2011, Preface.
  4. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 13.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "How To Get to the End of History or "getting to Denmark" review". Slate. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  6. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 73.
  7. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 312.
  8. ^ a b "Fukuyama's World". The American Conservative. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d Blackburn, Robert. "The Origins of Political Order review". The Independent. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c "Review review". Reviews in History. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "Francis Fukuyama's "The Origins of Political Order"". Washington Post. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  12. ^ a b "Review". New Statesman. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c d "A dense study of global political development". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Lind, Michael. "Francis Fukuyama's Theory of the State review". New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  15. ^ Fukuyama|2011|p=439
  16. ^ De Waal, Frans (2007). Chimpanzee Politics. JHU Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8656-0. 
  17. ^ Fukuyama|2011|p=34
  18. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 37.
  19. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 87.
  20. ^ Fukuyama 2011
  21. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 116,367.
  22. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 198.
  23. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 219.
  24. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 225.
  25. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 264.
  26. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 367.
  27. ^ a b Fukuyama 2011, p. 421.
  28. ^ a b "The good, the great and the gelded review". The Economist. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  29. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 120.
  30. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 158-167.
  31. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 182.
  32. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 218-219.
  33. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 190.
  34. ^ Fukuyama 2011, pp. 266.
  35. ^ Fukuyama 2011, pp. 268-269.
  36. ^ Fukuyama 2011, pp. 168.
  37. ^ Fukuyama 2011, pp. 265.
  38. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 268.
  39. ^ Fukuyama 2011, pp. 266–434.
  40. ^ Fukuyama 2011, pp. 266–269.
  41. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 6,188.
  42. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 151.
  43. ^ Fukuyama 2011, p. 183.
  44. ^ "New York Times Notable Book for 2011 review". New York TImes. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  45. ^ "Best Books of the Year 2011 Title review". Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  46. ^ "Best Nonfiction of 2011 title review". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  47. ^ "The Lionel Gelber Prize review". Award shortlist. Toronto University. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  48. ^ Sallet, John. "The Origins of Political Order review". The Washington Independent Review of Books. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  49. ^ Runciman, David. "The Origins of Political Order review". The Guardian. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  50. ^ "How To Get to the End of History or "getting to Denmark" review". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  51. ^ "From End of History Author, a Look at the Beginning and Middle". New York Times. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  52. ^ "Stanford Scholar Francis Fukuyama discusses the origins of political order". Trinity College. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  53. ^ "A return to the beginning of history recasts the story of modernization. Frank Furedi is enlightened". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  54. ^ "Review of "The Origins of Political Order"". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  55. ^ "Visionary of the Big Picture". The Australian. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  56. ^ "From Dynasty to Democracy - Nations did not find stability, or sustained prosperity, until they became accountable to their citizens". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  • Fukuyama, Francis (2004). State-building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century. Reference,Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series. Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801442926. 
  • Fukuyama, Francis (2011). Origins of political order : from prehuman times to the French revolution (1st paperback ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374-5332-29. 

External links[edit]